From Esther Akaa, Lafia
Media professionals have resolved to henceforth use the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to make government at all levels to be more open and transparent as well as to hold them accountable to the people in an effort to fulfilling the constitutional obligation imposed on the Media under Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution.
This was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of a two-day workshop on “Using the Freedom of Information Act for Investigative Reporting”, held on Thursday, October 26, and Friday, October 27, 2023 at Asaa Pyramid Hotel in Kaduna, Kaduna State.
According to the communiqué, the FOI Act enables journalists to get information from both public and private institutions and does not absolve them of their ethical obligations, thus, media professionals should use the opportunity to hold government accountable in order to fulfil their obligations to citizens of the country.
“Participants observed that in spite of the clear provisions of the FOI Act, the usage of the Law by journalists and the media remains relatively poor owing to a variety of challenges, including inadequate awareness about the Act and how to use it by media professionals, the lack of willingness by many State governments and public institutions at the Federal level to comply with its provisions.
“Participants also acknowledged the enormous impact that the FOI Act can have on the work of journalists, including in conducting investigative reporting, and observed that the Law offers members of the media community a real possibility of getting much of the information they require to carry out their professional functions and to produce stories that will be of interest to the public while also impacting governance.
“They also acknowledged the potential of the FOI Act to reveal corruption, abuse of public trust, abuse of power or other wrongdoings and to ultimately push back against corruption while improving accountability in governance,” the Communiqué observed.
It, therefore recommended that there should be continued sensitisation of media professionals at different levels, from editors and newsroom managers to reporters, on the various tools that they can be used to enhance investigative reporting, including the FOI Act.
The communiqué also urged civil society organisations to support the media in the exercise and enforcement of their right of access to information, including by providing journalists and media organisations with legal and litigation assistance to challenge any wrongful denial of information under the Act in court.
It charged journalists to monitor compliance by public institutions with the duties and obligations imposed on them by the FOI Act, including the designation of Freedom of Information Desk Officers by various agencies of government, the proactive publication of certain classes of information as required by the Act, the submission by all public institutions of their annual implementation reports to the Attorney-General of the Federation; the requirement that public institutions train their personnel and officials on the public’s right of access to information, among others.
The communiqué therefore called on journalists to hold themselves to high standards of ethics and professionalism and refrain from misusing information obtained through the use of the Act.
The Voice reports that the workshop was attended by 28 participants, most of whom were journalists from broadcast, print and online media drawn from different states across northern Nigeria, including Nasarawa State.
The objective of the workshop was to sensitise participating journalists and build their capacity to use the FOI Act for investigative reporting by familiarising them with the key provisions of the Act, how to make requests for information under the Act to increase their chances of success, and the enforcement mechanisms and options available to them whenever they are wrongfully denied access to any information requested.
It was organised by Media Rights Agenda with support from the MacArthur Foundation through the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development, Inclusion and Accountability (CMEDIA) Project, a multi-level intervention that supports media independence, improved transparency, accountability, and good governance in state and local governments with more public awareness on the need for accountability, and amplified marginalised voices.